‘Steve and I spend a lot of time on the packaging […] I love the process of unpacking something. You design a ritual of unpacking to make the product feel special. Packaging can be theater, it can create a story.’
– Jonathan Ives, Apple lead designer
We all know the fleeting satisfaction that comes with tearing a tag off a new garment, ripping the wrapper off a never-been-opened DVD case, or–wait for it—peeling off the clear plastic screen protector off a fresh iPhone. It brings us inexplicable good feelings and joy. And apparently, watching other people “unbox” new toys brings us joy, too. I would go as far to say we return an almost childlike state of being when we unbox or watch and unboxing. Earlier this year, the story of the elusive and anonymous “DC Toy Collector” went viral as the highest-earning YouTube account. That’s $4.9 million just for unwrapping toys, and is currently in 3rd place for most views. And the weirdest part? I can’t stop watching her videos. Could it be the crispy sound of fresh plastic, the texture of brand-new Play-Doh being molded for the first time between her brightly manicured fingers, or the soothing sound of her voice? It’s probably a combination of all the above, and the only scientific explanation is this: autonomous sensory meridian response, better known as ASMR: the physical sensation of tingling that often begins in the scalp and moves down through the spine and sometimes to the limbs. Like unboxing, there are bloggers who have established careers off of making ASMR videos on YouTube, but that’s a whole separate blog post for a separate (relaxing, euphoric) day. Surely it can’t be the entire psychology behind unboxing.
Like the feeling of presents wrapped under a Christmas tree, an unopened product box is just as ripe and twinkling with possibility. It could be amazing. It could be game-changing. It’s as if you have been waiting for each other this whole time. You almost don’t want to open it because having it exist in this realm of not-knowing is just as exciting, and it saves you from the possibility of disappointment. Unboxing is a way for users to document this moment-before and celebrate it, because sooner or later that iPhone is going to get shattered, cracked, dirty, and run out of storage, and we don’t celebrate the decline or everyday use. If we could, we would want to experience that moment as much as possible with products we don’t or might never own, and because of the way most unboxers shoot their videos, we can, vicariously, become the unboxer. The truth is, once it’s been unboxed, the product has lost some of its magic. It’s why we don’t go back to unboxing videos of the iPhone 5S (which is my current model). Instead, we want to experience the first time with others before, if ever, we experience it for ourselves.
The Dublin Review has a great essay dissecting the unboxing phenomena, and opens with the Ives quote at the top of this post. It’s the first I’ve heard the experience likened to that of a “ritual” of sorts, and who doesn’t love a good ritual?
“These videos are rituals without gods – unless, of course, the object itself is a god.”
Well, that’s enough to make any reader, viewer, or unboxer feel like a creepy voyeuristic consumerist false idol-worshipper.
The new Apple TV arrived a few days ago and is sitting on the reception table in our office. We entertained the idea of making an Apple TV Unboxing video, but after a quick YouTube search, the competition proved to already be steep (not that this is a contest). Never the team to be discouraged, as we proved with our goofy spoof of the Apple Watch, we decided to take this unboxing experience in another direction. Stay tuned, and until then, watch our favorite unboxing video to date from Samsung below.